AZTEC — With the goal of expanding students' knowledge and harvesting their creative potential, the academic booster club for the Aztec school district is entering its second year of operation following a successful launch during the 2011-2012 school year.

The Aztec Municipal School District first received a $20,000 grant from BP America in 2011.

The district recently received another $20,000 grant from BP America for the current school year, with approximately $6,500 earmarked for Dr. Luis Cruz to speak to the school staff about professional development, and the rest, approximately $13,500, set aside for classroom learning.

That support was born out of a casual chat between Superintendent Kirk Carpenter and Julia Levy, BP America's Director of Public and Government Affairs for the Rockies.

"Kirk and I were at some meetings together and we started talking about different things and it sort of happened organically like that," Levy said.

Carpenter said he leapt at the chance for funding to help professional development and start a program for teachers to develop or try new classroom projects that may have been limited by budgetary concerns.

"If the teachers need money during the year -- like they start up a curriculum and they come across a project that needs money -- that's why we created the academic booster club," Carpenter said. "It worked out perfectly last year and we're going to do more of the same.



Teachers submit applications to the academic booster club describing how their proposals -- including field trips and in-class projects -- will expand student interests, and increase student interaction and collaboration through hands-on learning experiences.

Carpenter provided several examples of educators districtwide who had taken advantage of the program, including a teacher from Park Avenue Elementary who was awarded funding to attend the state Destination ImagiNation competition.

Students in the competition learned to take focused risks, make decisions with efficiency and gain self-confidence as they tackled several challenges which required teamwork, complex thinking and creativity.

Carpenter said that because the booster club is an internal entity, it gives teachers more flexibility if an opportunity presents itself late in the school year, when outside funding is limited.

"It's not a free handout. Some work is done to justify its importance to the kids," Carpenter said. "So when we make the funds available, we do know if it meets the criteria to improve student learning for all students."

A teacher at Aztec High School used funding to help address behavioral needs in her transition classes. Social and emotional skills curriculum was introduced to handle subjects like bullying prevention, choosing friends, hygiene and handling rejection.

One teacher from Koogler Middle School purchased cameras for a project called "Captured Classroom Learning," where students were able to produce digital projects for every classroom subject. The cameras provided an opportunity for hands-on learning and to promote creativity as students created digital essays, newsletters and web pages.

Levy was excited to continue working with the Aztec school district, finding the community is eager to continually advance learning.

"We found the Aztec school district has great teachers, students and parental involvement," Levy said. "With a little funds, we were able to enhance the program they were offering."